Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Review

The fuss of casting a white actress in the lead role of Ghost in the Shell can at last take a (temporary) backseat. It helps that the actor in question is Scarlett Johansson, she has the screen presence to divert attention to what is important. As always, that should be the plot.

Playing the role of the Major, a rank we see her attain here after a short opening sequence that reveals her “creation” and/or alteration. She is Mira Killian, her brain is planted into a perfect engineered cybernetic body made by Hanka Robotics. The CEO there, Cutter, sees her as a weapon and wants her up and running as soon as possible.

The designer, Juliette Binoche’s Dr Ouelet (because white people make, as well as look, like the best of Asia in this future world), sees Major as a living person. Most definitely not an object. And therein begins our moral tale of consciousness and what constitutes life. However, unlike the animated original, these themes – along with the entire movie – have been made more accessible for a mainstream audience.

It means the deeper philosophical questions have been dumbed down and the action sequences, instead pioneering like its forbearer, become generic and lifeless. They do pay homage to scenes from the original, at times it’s as if moments have been lifted from there. And the authenticity of the environment is solid throughout.

It falls down when it comes to adding suspense and the journey Major undertakes to reveal her true identity (it isn’t Killian). It’s noble they tried to add the backstory in what they must be hoping is a franchise, but everything is far too obvious.

Whether it be Hanko turning on Major, to the main plot of seemingly malevolent AI that is looking to bring down Hanko. This third-party intelligence is at odds with Major’s views of the world, leading to Hanko losing faith, despite Dr Ouelet’s protests.

It seems tech companies like to be run by bad guys once they’re making revolutionary strides forward. Hanko is like RoboCop’s OCP. A company in deep with the government and run lawlessly from within.

Visually, it can be stunning at times. A body suit clad Johansson is always going to be easy on the eye, and as mentioned, the set pieces breathe life into the world they are trying to replicate from the original. Perhaps the finale goes too big on the Hollywood action, and the setting feels at odds with all that came before it.

But as something to look at, whether it be Major, Hideo (we see why he needs the goggles), the city, or most of the fight scenes, it deserves the title: Ghost in the Shell.

It even tries to carry the heart of the original and gets a free pass, this time, because of the leading lady.

Sadly, it just lacks that something special beyond the performance of Johansson to make it noteworthy. The 1995 version was ground-breaking in many ways, this is the exact opposite. It plays it safe, using standard techniques and methods we’ve seen a million times before in countless forgettable movies.

Hopefully there is enough of an interest to allow Section 9 another chance but without Rupert Sanders in the director’s chair.

5/10

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Apple Tree Yard – Season 1 – Episode 4

This series ends on the dramatic high the BBC promised before it aired. The courtroom tension that followed in the final hour was so fraught because of the humiliation female characters had to endure.

First up was DS Johns, a police officer that had a working relationship with the ever-dependable non-Spook Costley. She was cross-examined if his behaviour altered during the weeks in question.

She said, “no.”

So, Costley’s own barrister went in hard. Now, I’m no legal expert. But I’m pretty sure in court, you can’t get away with shocking language if you add the precursor: “To use a colloquial term.” But apparently you can, as she was asked, “did he finger you.”

I mean, come on. Just ask in the politest possible way what happened.

Turns out Costley had quickly moved on from Yvonne and was acting inappropriately elsewhere. All building up a picture of an unstable man. Professionals in various psychiatric fields argued the merits of his personality disorder.

As if the treatment of DS Johns wasn’t bad enough, the onslaught continued when Yvonne took to the stand. She broke down, delivering the impact of why she was scared of reporting the rape. When the same barrister delivered the bombshell she’d lied about the affair, her credibility lay in tatters.

But as rightly pointed out, that lie doesn’t mean her ordeal should be dismissed or that she coldly plotted a murder.

We headed to the obvious conclusion but as seems to be the modern way, we needed a twist. Over the weeks we have relied on Yvonne’s narration, her recollection of events. In a closing scene, we see her visit Mark in prison. He says he never told, that he kept the secret.

His inability to separate fact from fiction extended to throwaway remarks.

A solid finish to a series with a shaky start.

8/10

Apple Tree Yard – Season 1 – Episode 3

It’s the show that continues to get better, episode-by-episode. The third instalment sees the real issues take centre stage. And it’s all the better for it. A show that was uncomfortable to watch in the first moments because it was cringe is now difficult because of the gravitas of its message.

Last week’s dart from George’s house is now explained. Mr Conspiracy here shouldn’t have focused on disinterested dogs in the window. That canine was conveniently ignoring a brutal beating that led to George’s death.

Yep, the “Spook” took things too far and ensured the rapist couldn’t bother Yvonne ever again.

The police pitch up when she’s in a restaurant with her family, where she shares a touching kiss with husband Gary, and arrest her on suspicion of murder.

Still, the law here says if they plotted it together, if she had foreknowledge, she’s as guilty as the man putting the boot in. For his part, Mark Costley pleads manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Sprinkle in a personality disorder claim, and he was big step to avoiding a full murder conviction.

This should have all been great news for Yvonne. With Mark saying he lost his mind, and literally has a few personas on the go to lose, she has a stronger case to say she was unaware.

Wouldn’t make for great telly though, would it, a clear-cut case?
The problems arise when she posts bail (hubby generates £100k to do so) but she breaks the terms of it by responding to a Costley text message. That really was costly.

The courtroom drama was decent. It was interesting and gratifying to see Costley deconstructed. His character was always slightly off-kilter. Now we are made to question if this really is his persona. The links to the intelligence service are revealed: he failed selection.

This leaves Yvonne questioning everything she thought she knew while trying to maintain the façade they were just friends. That can’t end well . . . especially when Costley got a bit of the old green eye watching Yvonne interact with Gary in court.

7/10

Apple Tree Yard – Season 1 – Episode 2

After a dubious beginning, episode two of Apple Tree Yard dispenses with the elements that dragged it down and the main story starts to get traction. The payoff for this is the most uncomfortable twenty minutes of television I can recall ever experiencing.

Yvonne is trying her best to cope with the rape. She feigns illness to give herself space from her husband, while seeking counsel from Mark Costley. He hooks her up with an expert about how to proceed should she wish to prosecute George for the crime.

Problem is, time has elapsed, the DNA evidence now washed away, and he warns that her whole life would be placed under a microscope. This is enough to make her decide against any formal action.

She decides to leave her job and end the affair with Costley, explaining she can’t see herself ever wanting sex again and theirs was just a lustful encounter.

Another problem develops when it seems George is beginning to stalk her. He’s sending texts from unknown phones and flowers with quaint messages. So she turns to Costley for support. He is a Spook after all, right?

The series hinges on where it goes from here. As a viewer, suspicions should be high. Why couldn’t Costley – a would-be Bond – get to George straight away? When he finally pays him a visit, he casually walks into the house and the dog in the window never pays any notice (familiar face?).

We are reminded at the close of the show Yvonne is on trial in the future. But for what? Was she being used as a puppet of sorts or did she take revenge too far?

6/10

The Leftovers – Season 2 – Episode 10

So an extended episode attempts to wrap up what has been an enthralling season. Even with the extra minutes, nobody expects all the answers. But things look bleak for Jarden as a whole and in particular Kevin Garvey, whose handprint on the girls’ car has now been identified. Oh yeah, and he’s been a little bit dead for an episode.

In a move that is either deus ex machina or a necessary plot device (I’ll let you decide), Kevin suddenly remembers the missing girls faked their disappearance. How that sits with you could change the perception of an entire season.

Knowing this doesn’t stop John Murphy shooting him and leaving Kev for dead . . . again.

So we head back to that strange hotel (afterlife or not?) where he once again finds a way to escape back to reality.

Once back on familiar ground the Guilty Remnants have enacted their plan. The illusion of a Miracle Town has given way to all-out anarchy. Peace has been destroyed and this time the cult has a strong foothold over a town.

Kevin and John makes friends, as you do after a friendly shooting, and pull together.

The ending is emotional and it’s easy to feel that Kevin has been on a journey. It all just feels a little contrived.

7/10